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How to help someone with a chronic illness



So I stumbled across this little gem of an article which lists 50 ways you can help someone with a chronic illness, and it got me thinking about the idea of asking for and accepting help, but also the other side of this: the process of offering or giving help.

I suppose people sometimes find it awkward to offer help - that it might seem patronising, or maybe they don't know how to help. If you offer an open-ended "let me know if you need anything" that's lovely and appreciated, but it's still hard to ask for things.

That was something I had to learn and get over when I was really sick with POTS. I was passing out all the time and very weak: I needed help. It got to the point where I'd be asking someone to walk me to the bathroom during a rehearsal. Not a fun thing to do but it was necessary - and people really don't mind.

There's also a difference between asking and telling: asking if I need something rather than telling me I need something, or asking me how I feel rather than telling me how I feel.

When I was really unwell some people felt the need to insist I sat down whenever I was up and about. I guess they were worried but it was embarrassing and annoying. It was also an unfounded instinct rather than them knowing me and gaging how I was, ie clocking me going pale or my eyes going a little glazed.

So the loveliest/most helpful things people have done for me include: driving/coming with me to hospital appointments (not just family but also an old manager I wasn't even that close to did this - so appreciated), offering lifts, offering to pick things up when going to the supermarket, picking up medication, offering to carry heavy items, offering to bring food round when I've been really unwell, making me tea etc.

So lots of practical things really. I haven't always taken people up on their offers but it's always made me feel so grateful. It's horrible feeling so unwell, and realising people care about you enough to offer to do these things does bring some much needed happiness in these difficult moments.

It's also things like texting and asking how I'm doing. When I'm off sick from work I tend to be frustrated that I'm at home. Aside from the whole feeling awful thing, I'd also much rather be at work than in bed watching telly. Doing that on a weekend is lovely and a nice way to unwind but when it's because I'm unwell it's just annoying. So having someone check in, and make me smile, is nice.

It's also people asking questions that I like. You might worry about prying or it being annoying, but I like it. I want people to understand this condition as there's so little awareness. It also shows they want to understand which is nice. I'd much rather that than people making assumptions about why I have this condition, or what it's like to live with.

So if you know someone with a chronic illness read that article I linked to. Don't be scared to offer help. Equally don't be offended or put off if your offer is turned down - it's likely to still be really appreciated. The offer also makes it easier to ask for help in the future.

I hope no one reads this and feels a pang of guilt - wondering if they should do more, or do things differently. That's not the point. It's more to alleviate any anxieties around this potentially awkward issue.

So thank you to everyone in my life that is so wonderful, and to the people that also have some ridiculous health condition - you're not alone, and it's ok to need help. It doesn't make you weaker, it's just a necessary part of getting by and staying strong. So say yes when you know you need to, and ask for something when you know it's necessary. It gets easier.

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